Create authority and build trust through online communities with this list of the best online community platforms.
If you do business online, chances are your customers as well as the wider target audience are geographically dispersed — they might not all be in the same city, state, or even country.
In the past, the most popular way to bring your customers together was to throw social events, gatherings, conferences, etc. While you can do these things today, it’s not the most inclusionary option. Especially if your group is scattered all over the place… it may be worth it to consider hosting something online.
Online communities are experiencing a boom right now. In some ways, they are a more evolved version of social media. Instead of connecting everyone based on whether they know each other — like every social media platform out there – online communities are brought together by common interests first.
It’s likely that your customers have a lot in common. Organizing them into a community can be very beneficial, from seeing more engagement with your brand to elevated organic customer growth that corresponds to the growing community.
Where do you start? First, you need an online community platform.
Here are some shortcuts if you’re eager to skip ahead.
- What are online community platforms?
- Why are online community platforms important?
- How to build an online community platform?
- Top 17 best online community platforms
What are online community platforms?
When you think about building a community, how do you actually do it? You need community forum software that allows for community features like community management and makes it easy for community members to discuss topics, leave comments, start conversations and more.
Take, for example, Reddit — the largest platform for online communities worldwide and one of the most visited websites in the world. There are more than 100,000 active subreddits (communities united by the same theme, such as r/science) on the platform and millions of daily users and visitors. Any user can start a new subreddit community, and users can be part of more than one community at the same time.
Another famous online community example, especially in the startup world, is Hacker News. This online community created by the startup incubator Y Combinator is famous for its active discussions on a variety of subjects around technology and attracts thousands of users every day. The community platform itself was custom-built by Y Combinator and inspired by the early days of Reddit.
Why are online community platforms important?
Creating and curating online communities will only become more important because they tap into one of the most fundamental human needs — social connection.
At the same time, it rarely makes sense to build your own branded community platform or membership site from scratch. It requires a lot of effort to create and maintain — why not just choose one of many online community platforms out there?
You can use an open-source or commercial third-party community platform (with a free plan for testing) to build a white-label solution you want, often without any coding required.
Related: It’s Time to Tap Into Togetherness with Communities
How to build an online community platform
Before selecting what online community platform to use, make sure you know what kind of a community you’re building.
There are at least 10 different types of online communities that are popular today, from brand communities to learning communities to professional networks. Some communities might overlap, but most have their own goals and values, and are thus structured differently as well.
Related: How to Build an Online Community
In his book Build Your Community, Richard Millington shares a few useful steps for creating a successful community online:
- Get your first members
- Customize an online platform for your needs
- Share expertise and let your community members help each other
- Have a unique positioning
- Make sure your community revolves around your organization
Once you know the community you’re creating your platform for, you can more accurately plan for member engagement, register for social media, buy a custom domain, and, of course, select the best online community platform.
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17 of the best online community platforms in 2023
There’s no online community platform that’s perfect for everyone. Each option is going to excel at some features (e.g. real-time chat) and be worse at others (e.g. higher logic structure).
But the bottom line is that an online community platform should be a safe and uplifting space that gives you the control to create a group that your members will feel connected and engaged in.
That’s why we pre-selected 17 of the best online community platforms where you can build the perfect environment for your audience. Feel free to skip ahead here if you’re investigating a specific platform:
- Mighty Networks
- Facebook Groups
- Vanilla Forums
If you’ve been thinking of creating a community attached to your online course, look no further than Thinkific.
Thinkific is a powerful but intuitive platform for creating, designing and selling online courses. It doesn’t require you to learn any coding — you can start with a well-designed template and customize it with a drag-and-drop editor in real time.
After your course is done, add a community to it, so your customers can get to know each other, discuss common issues and share expertise.
- Courses and communities in one place
- White-label customization without coding
- Get started quickly
- There’s a free plan available, with paid plans starting at just $36 a month.
Launch your online learning product for free
Use Thinkific to create, market, and sell online courses, communities, and memberships — all from a single platform.
Those who need a white-label online community platform should check out Tribe. This no-code solution allows you to build and customize a perfect platform for your brand’s audience. Everything from the layout and colors to the custom domain and extra widgets is easy to add and tailor to your needs.
Your community members can join groups, write posts and participate in discussions. They will have their own activity feed for updates and can use their existing social media logins to sign in to the platform.
The user-generated content on Tribe is automatically SEO-friendly and optimized for social sharing (if made public). They are also moderation tools to keep all discussions on topic.
- A no-code editor
- Easy login for all users
- Customizable branding
- Member roles for clear permissions
- Powerful analytics
- From $59 to $599 a month, depending on the number of members
Related: Build Learning Communities with Thinkific
PeerBoard is an extremely rich community platform that offers course creators the opportunity to build truly engaging discussion spaces for their learners and ties those discussions closely into their course material.
The platform is simple to use, easy to integrate, and offers beautiful posts, member segmentation, notifications, commenting and insight tools to help course creators get the most out of their learner communities.
- Integrates natively with Thinkific and automatically imports course spaces and students
- Display posts and discussion threads inside of the Thinkific course-player
- White label and customizable
- Peerboard offers a generous free plan. Paid plans start at $29 per month to $23 per month annually.
Online creators who are actively building an online community around their brand should check out Mighty Networks.
This community platform makes it easy to invite community members to discuss anything you have to offer, from online courses to ebooks. You can let users post too and chat with each other, further strengthening your community.
New posts are easy to create with an intuitive CMS and can include images, videos, audio, surveys and more. Users can engage with your content on the web or through mobile apps.
- Unlimited storage for your community files
- Add and sell online courses
- Direct messages between members
- Unlimited admins and members
- From $33 to $99 a month, depending on whether you need online courses or not
It’s likely that by now you’ve been invited to join a Slack group by one of the online communities you’re a part of.
Slack is not only a work chat — it’s also an easy way to organize any kind of a community online. There’s a free plan, which allows you to add unlimited community members but caps visible messages to 10,000 (can be viewed by subscribing to a paid plan). Paid plans also allow for more storage, app integrations and group calls.
There are direct messages available, and you can create channels to keep various topics neatly organized. Recently, Slack has added audio and video call features.
In general, Slack is a good choice for those who are looking to keep the conversation going within their community, but not much else in terms of options to customize branding.
- Unlimited members
- Neat channel organization
- Most users likely already have a Slack login
- A generous free plan
- Paid options starting at $6.67 a month per user
Anyone who knows any gaming communities has likely heard about Discord, an instant messaging platform with support for voice calls, video calls and chats.
In some way, Discord is similar to Slack, but centers the experience around the user. The same user profile can belong to multiple servers (communities), which makes it easy to create a new online community if your target audience is already using Discord.
Discord is free to use — each user themselves can choose whether to upgrade themselves to a pro user, unlocking extra features. Just like Slack, Discord is a good option for creating an online community if most of the features you need are chat-related.
- Free for most users
- Channels, messages and voice calls available
- Free, each user can upgrade their profile separately.
One more popular option for building a community online that’s hard to avoid is Facebook Groups.
Most people who are regularly online, regardless of demographics, have a Facebook profile. This makes Facebook Groups an easy choice when thinking about a new community platform.
There’s not much in terms of customization, but you can add a header, forum rules, allow members to post, add multimedia files and moderate any forum activity.
Facebook Groups are free. The downside is that most members won’t see every group post in the activity feed, unless they visit the group directly. As a result, the member engagement in Facebook Groups is generally pretty low. As well, in recent years Facebook has faced many challenges ranging from usability, data privacy issues, ownership, control, and monetization.
- Easy to start and moderate
- Users don’t need to create separate profiles
- Free to create and participate.
When it comes to open-source community platforms, Discourse is taking the lead. You can tweak the codebase in any way you see fit to build the features you want.
At the same time, Discourse is a pretty powerful platform right out of the box. Bring together a community, organize categories and threads, assign moderators and more. Users, in turn, can post, message each other, share content, etc.
A very helpful power feature that Discourse offers is automatic filtering for spammers and trolls.
- Open-source code and flexible API
- Social media logins available
- Powerful automatic moderation
- Self-host Discourse for free. You can also use their 14-day free trial for managed hosting. After that, managed hosting costs range from $50 (limited time offer now is $25) to $300 a month.
Vanilla Forums (owned by Higher Logic) is a community management platform that lets companies connect their customers to each other.
This forum software is easy to customize in any way through HTML and CSS. Users can mention each other, leave comments, ask questions, send private messages, create polls and more.
As a business, you can run multiple sub-communities on Vanilla Forums at once easily and assign community admins for moderation. Each forum can be customized for a specific goal, whether it’s a knowledge base or a space for Q&A.
- Customization through HTML and CSS
- Flexible community features
- Prices start at $600 but exact quotes are given by the sales team.
Looking at the Circle website, you get the feeling of calm and order. The platform’s minimalist approach, however, doesn’t take away from its powerful set of features.
Circle makes it easy to create your own branded community with a custom domain name. You can quickly add wikis, discussions, FAQs, Q&As and integrations with other apps. There’s a mobile app as well to make sure your community can always stay connected.
The Circle membership site is not free but stays affordable even for small online businesses.
- A beautiful interface
- A mobile app
- Most community features are included
- They offer a 14-day free trial, after that it ranges anywhere from $39 to $360 a month annually, depending on members, admins and storage required.
Some of the most successful communities weren’t created by attracting members to their platforms. Rather, they went to their audience themselves.
Reddit is the world’s largest collection of online communities, and new ones can be started by anyone. Creating your own subreddit will allow you to attract more members faster than it would’ve been possible otherwise.
You can let your Reddit community create posts, vote on them and even elect moderators. It’s also completely free. The downsides are seeing ads and getting the community members outside of Reddit to engage.
- Hundreds of millions of people already on the platform
- Easy management and minimum setup required
- Getting started with Reddit is free, but you’ll probably want to give out Reddit Gold occasionally to the most engaged members.
Kajabi is an all-in-one online community platform that can help you grow your business with custom solutions. With Kajabi, you can manage growth with built-in CRM, collect payments with Stripe and Paypal integrations, and use analytics to make informed business decisions.
Kajabi provides you with the tools you need to create all kinds of content to showcase what you know best, including online courses, coaching programs, podcasts, memberships, and more all while building up your online community.
- Allows you to customize your own branding style
- Create discussion posts with comment feeds
- Offers an assortment of tools to monetize and market your content
- Has a fully-integrated website
- Kajabi offers flexible pricing plans, ranging from $149 to $399 monthly. They also have annual plans where you can save 20% from the monthly prices.
MemberDev is a flexible online community platform that allows you to grow a custom membership platform.
Creating a membership website requires a lot of moving parts. The process can be confusing, difficult and extremely time-consuming… MemberDev takes this load off of you to make the process a lot lighter.
A major selling point for MemberDev is that they offer a great amount of customization for your personal group.
- They make it clear, easy and efficient to use the platform
- Assists in building you a membership platform designed specifically for your business
- Typical social media features like member profiles and forums
- Sales funnels and email marketing integration
- Members-only live events
- Their pricing is private and based on individual client’s needs.
Uscreen has a lot to offer when building your online community space. Uscreen helps creators build and grow online video businesses with an all-in-one online platform that creates a unique community.
This platform is different as it’s more niche – it helps you build an online community around your videos.
Uscreen community features help you to forge a strong bond with your audience, and foster and grow your own community around your content.
- Community and course features
- Personalize your website and apps to match your brand
- Membership sites for your subscribers
- Tools to host live streaming events
- Share photos and text to a community feed
- Monthly plans range from $99 to $199 a month, with an option to go beyond that depending on your business and group. They also offer discounted annual rates.
Podia is a great alternative to Facebook Groups for anyone looking to grow their online community, with their features being powerful and effective, yet simple to use.
Podia lets you build free and paid communities for your audience, so that you can spark conversation around your work as a creator. They are an all-in-one tool that allows you to navigate through all aspects of creating an online community seamlessly.
- Control over how users interact in community groups
- Monetize and sell products, share content, and run your community from the same platform
- Podia has a generous free option, and monthly plans range from $39 to $199 per month. There is also an option to save with annual plans.
HumHub is a free social network software and framework built to give you the tools to make online communication and collaboration easy and successful.
With HumHub you can create your own customized social network, social intranet, or huge social enterprise application that really fits your needs.
- HumHub is completely open-source
- You can extend HumHub by using third party tools, writing your own or connecting existing software
- You are in full control of your data
- Communicate like you already do in other social networks
- HumHub is a free platform, however they do offer a professional edition that has a range of different monthly price points depending on how many users you want in your group.
Disciple is a customisable social networking platform that offers great options for tailoring your brand for your members online.
With Disciple, you can use your favourite tools to enhance your community by using their open API to sync your community with apps such as Google Suite, Mailchimp, YouTube and more – no coding required.
- Spark powerful conversations with groups, polls and comments
- Connect with your members in real time with livesteams and direct messaging options
- Store and share your content from one central place
- Has multiple layout options such as folders, unlimited sub groups, and content feeds
- Unlock valuable insights into which content is performing best
- Keep an eye on your most and least engaged members
- Harness your data to reach your community goals
- While there is no free option, Disciple has a range of different price points. They offer annual or 6-monthly plans, starting from $46 to $999 per month.
How to build a strong community
Building a community is not easy, but also not impossible. Start with a how-to book such as David Spinks’s The Business of Belonging and our in depth article on how to build an online community. Then get the right tools to support your work. Finally, pick the best online community platform from the list above,
Ready to launch your online course and community with confidence? Sign up for your forever-free Thinkific account today.
This blog post was originally published in June 2022 and was updated in December 2022 with additional information.